The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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October 12, 2013

Shrunken paychecks turn up



Managers at Nourish Now, a District of Columbia nonprofit group that collects unused food from restaurants and caterers, said they were surprised to have seven furloughed federal workers apply for food aid in recent days. "People thought it might not last long, but now they're missing their first paycheck, and they need help," said the executive director, Brett Meyers.

Matthew Barker, an Alexandria area resident, has a degree in biology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an arborist job with the Architect of the Capitol. But with his wife five months pregnant at home and finances already tight, he braced for his first semi-paycheck by starting a part-time job as a night janitor at an Arlington County, Va. middle school.

"I just have to figure out where the money is going to come from," Barker said. "I could call up my parents, they know what's going on, but you don't want to do that as the 28-year-old head of a family. When something has to be done, you just do it."

The shutdown came at a tough time for the Barkers. The couple, who met as AmeriCorps volunteers in Alaska six years ago, moved to the Washington area expressly to get a foothold in a job market their friends described as robust and stable. They kept their old Jeep as long they could, canceled credit cards and tried to live frugally as they established a household in a 700-square-foot, 1960s-era apartment where the water doesn't always work.

"We are a paycheck-to-paycheck family now," said Barker's wife, Shandean Bell, 27. Her marketing job disappeared earlier this year when her boss closed up shop owing her two months' pay. "It's hard. People have these opinions and say, 'Oh, government workers are getting a free vacation.' Well it's not a free vacation when we can't make our car payment this week. My husband is so intelligent and has all these degrees, and he's cleaning up barf in a middle school. I'm so proud of him."

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